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Caving Illnesses

Flotsam

Active member
Contemplating things from my sick bed, Covid again. I've always been very prone to upper respiratory track illnesses. I got to thinking about the illnesses I had come across when caving.
Apart from the normal colds and flu, I got a bout of viral labyrinthitis, probably due to having my head in meltwater for an extended period. The symptoms were unsteadyness, had to hold onto things to stay upright.
The next thing I got was glandular fever after doing a big cave in Spain. I first realised something was wrong when I entered the SRT speed climbing competition at the BCRA conference after the expedition. I was up to that point extremely fit and could do 500ft without stopping. However I felt as if I had lead weights hung all over me and I was slow. I know where it came from. I have wondered if it was misdiagnosed, I had a couple of nasty insect bites while sleeping out on the coast. I don't feel I ever really recovered from whatever it was.

While digging New Rift Pot a really nasty flu went round the digging team. My experience of it was bad. My temperature was so high I passed out. I think all of us had a bad experience. I did wonder if the flu was some primordial virus released from the rocks we were blasting.
Apart from what happened to me, a number of our club went on a caving expedition in Mexico and came back with histoplasmosis which was apparently very nasty.
 

langcliffe

Well-known member
I think most, if not all, of us who went to Venezuela in 1973 tested positive for histoplasmosis on our return, but fortunately no one had been ill. But it can be very nasty.
 

Bob Mehew

Well-known member
As at least one contributor to ukCaving will tell you, Weil's disease can be hard hitting and kills a couple of people each year in the UK. Lyme's disease is also worth avoiding as it can linger for months.

If it is the same expedition to Mexico, then I think many of the team were hospitalised out there for a while but did recover.
 

Steve Clark

Well-known member
I got an ear infection diving in the Florida springs. Poor treatment in the US followed by a ruptured ear drum. 3 months recovery back in the UK and it should have been fixed. First attempt at a teaching dive in a swimming pool and I became very sick within a few hours. On all-fours clinging to a hotel bath in Birmingham with everything spinning. Managed to make it to a hospital. Anti-nausea injections and anti-biotics. (With hindsight I shouldn't have driven, but..) it took me about 12 hours to get back home doing one service station at a time. I went to bed for a week and have never felt as ill in my life.

That was 15+ years ago. Now I'm very careful to rinse my ears out with 90% IPA and have never had a repeat. I don't think it's the actual spring water, which is totally clear and being bottled, more the tannic water in the rivers that you swim through to access the cave entrances.
 

Fjell

Well-known member
Taking a very earnest tip from the army guys there, we took antibiotics daily as a precaution when operating in the caves/forest in Borneo. They said it worked for them, and we didn’t catch anything. All good.
 

Pitlamp

Well-known member
Bob Mehew's post above is spot on; Lyme's and Weils are both a hazard in this country. I had the latter from caving and was very ill. The BCA has some good advice available on Weils, which every caver really should make themselves aware of, so they seek the right treatment sooner rather than later, if they suspect they've been infected. Treatment is simple but, without it, one possible outcome is fatality. Protection against infection is also fairly simple (read the BCA information.)

Another bacterial infection I'd add to this list is cellulitis, which gets into the deepest layers of the skin via even minor cuts. (Note; this is completely different from "cellulite"!) The infection can spread quickly and, if not treated with antibiotics, can progress to sepsis (which requires very urgent hospital treatment and can also be fatal ). I had cellulitis last year, starting from a very small cut on my shin whilst digging. It wasn't nice but responded well to antibiotics.

It's probably worth cavers having a brief Google on "cellulitis" just so you're aware in case it ever happens.

We're really selling caving here, aren't we? ;-)
 

mrodoc

Well-known member
We're doomed, all doomed! In a blatant plug for my new book (see the media forum) I can say this is commented on to quite an extent in it. Histoplasmosi is the cave disease! As for cellulitis I have a huge olecranon bursa secondary to an infected graze on my elbow about 40 years ago.
 

Badlad

Administrator
Staff member
On a more positive note regular caving improves physical fitness and wellbeing. That helps avoid many ailments and problems.
A friend of mine used to suffer badly from hayfever in the summer and loved getting underground for some relief. On balance I think you'll be more healthy from gong caving than less.
 

Long Drop

Active member
Does anyone else have a mental image of a load of cavers, oversuits tucked into their wellies, lying on yoga mats in the dark, whilst someone creeps around bonging a gong..?
 

Loki

Active member
Does anyone else have a mental image of a load of cavers, oversuits tucked into their wellies, lying on yoga mats in the dark, whilst someone creeps around bonging a gong..?
Mindfulness sessions in gg on the winch meet anyone? I’m sure we can rustle up a bong to gong.
 

mrodoc

Well-known member
Does anyone else have a mental image of a load of cavers, oversuits tucked into their wellies, lying on yoga mats in the dark, whilst someone creeps around bonging a gong..?
Have you been to some of caves in Thailand then?
 

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Speleofish

Active member
You shouldn't be able to catch Lyme disease underground (no ticks) but you may be at risk on the way to and from the cave. Sheep and deer ticks are two or the species that are particularly likely to carry it so you could encounter them in any of Britain's caving areas. The only cases I've seen were in dog walkers in wooded areas (so, presumably, deer ticks).

Not all ticks carry it but if you are bitten and subsequently (within 1-4 weeks) develop flu-like symptoms or a spreading rash, you should seek medical advice. The rash is very characteristic (lots of pictures on the internet) but if it has faded before you get to see a GP, you may have difficulty persuading them to take it seriously. Best advice is to take a photograph to show them.
 

Bob Mehew

Well-known member
Of course the topic we have not yet mentioned is radon. It is a real hazard and whilst for most low active cavers not significant, it cannot be denied that several highly active cavers have died from lung cancer. When we looked into it some years ago, we were advised there was insufficient data (ie dead bodies) to make it worth doing a statistical investigation. And I am aware that a number of potentially at risk persons have modified their caving activities.
 

cap n chris

Well-known member
Bob is correct. A litany of Derbyshire caving folk stand testimony to that region's shocking Rn222 levels. Don't cave there regularly is the take home advice.
 

Fjell

Well-known member
Apart from the possibility of accelerating the evolution of antibiotic-resistant bacteria?
Wish I had done it rather than get typhoid earlier. I am so not into that any more. Pretty sure that would kill me now at my age, had a good go then.
 

pwhole

Well-known member
Don't cave there regularly is the take home advice.
Some of us don't have much choice. And it does depend on where you are in Derbyshire. But I avoid any of the P swallets between March and October as I've seen the numbers, and it just doesn't seem worth it. That said, most of the rest of Castleton probably isn't much better, it just hasn't been tested.

I rarely get colds, but a few years ago I got a very bad one a few hours after breaking up rocks at close quarters, but I couldn't imagine I could develop one that quickly. The club had been rammed with visitors that morning, so it was probably more likely that, but even that seems too quick. But I've never been able to quite shake the idea of inhaling some 300-million year-old bacteria that's just been waiting to be freed.
 
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Loki

Active member
You shouldn't be able to catch Lyme disease underground (no ticks) but you may be at risk on the way to and from the cave. Sheep and deer ticks are two or the species that are particularly likely to carry it so you could encounter them in any of Britain's caving areas. The only cases I've seen were in dog walkers in wooded areas (so, presumably, deer ticks).

Not all ticks carry it but if you are bitten and subsequently (within 1-4 weeks) develop flu-like symptoms or a spreading rash, you should seek medical advice. The rash is very characteristic (lots of pictures on the internet) but if it has faded before you get to see a GP, you may have difficulty persuading them to take it seriously. Best advice is to take a photograph to show them.
Don’t underestimate Lyme. My mother probably had it about 30 years ago but thought she had a horse fly bite. It was only many years later I saw a photo of a Lyme rash and remembered the big red bullseye on her leg. She’s been totally banjaxed ever since because it wasn’t treated. Mainly chronic fatigue and weakness. Ticks are all over the Lake District including silverdale area and even Kendal. And rife all over Scotland. Not heard of any in the dales. Anyone know if they’re in the dales? We regularly find them on us after walking in the lakes and found ten in one check after a day out in Scotland. Take care out there.
 
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